When the third highest wicket taker in Test history and the best-known footballer in the country sit down with seasoned authors for a book launch, the result is a conversation that is sure to please sports connoisseurs.
Two former national captains, Anil Kumble and Baichung Bhutia, came together at the session India at Play, to coincide with the launch of the Wisden India Almanack 2016, at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Discussing cricket, football and nationalism with the two icons were journalist Sidin Vadukut, Wisden India Editor Suresh Menon, and sports writer Ronojoy Sen.
Inevitably, a chunk of the conversation centred on cricket and the manner in which the gentleman’s game overshadows all other sports in India. “Cricket has delivered as a team sport and it shows in the results. It is the only sport where you can air a commercial after every two minutes,” joked Kumble.
According to Ronojoy Sen, the author of Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India, radio commentary on All India Radio helped the popularity of cricket. “The victories over West Indies in beating England in England in 1971, helped cricket grow,” he said.
Asked about individual milestones in team games, Bhutia said he was proud of having captained India for more than 100 matches.
When moderator Sidin Vadukut joked with Kumble about whether he had got tired of talking about the time he took all 10 wickets in an innings, the latter said he cherished the record. “It has happened just two times in cricket history. It may have been a freak incident, but the night before every match I used to think about getting all the batsmen in the opposition out in my mind. But on the field it happened only once. I guess it was my destiny to get the 10/10.”
But football scores over cricket in one way: the involvement of the fans at the club level. “There is so much passion in football fans. When a football team loses in the ISL, the fans are shattered. In Calcutta they display their anger and stop the traffic. But three years ago, I had gone to watch an IPL final. After the match, the fans of the team that lost did not appear sad. They just had their sandwich and returned home. The biggest cheers in the match were not on sixers or wickets. They were cheering the most when they had Shah Rukh or Preity Zinta on the large screen!”
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